Plea for Economic Justice

By Haider, S. M. | Economic Review, February 1990 | Go to article overview

Plea for Economic Justice


Haider, S. M., Economic Review


What kind of economic order would best achieve the values of democracy, political equality, and liberty is a question with which the nation is now confronted. To answer this question, I invite you to imagine that we are not only strongly committed to these values in Pakistan but also, at an unusual historical juncture when democracy stands restored after 11 years of dictatorship, we are faced with challenging opportunity to create a new economic order for ourselves. What sort of economic order should we create.

The distribution of economic resources required for the sustenance of democracy in Pakistan is related to the distribution required to achieve economic fairness. We do not want to satisfy ourselves that our economic order in Pakistan is fair. For, believing as we do in fairness and justice, it would be an unhappy contradiction if our political order were fair but our economic order grossly unfair. We should also insist that our economic order in Pakistan be efficient, that it would tend to minimize the ratio of valued inputs to valued outputes.

Self-government and economic enterprise is often advocated as a way of creating participatory democracy and producing changes in human personality and behaviour. Thus the enterprise can become a site for fulfilling our vision of political society and for improving the criterion of excellence in our government. Economic democracy, if brought into being by the enforcement of fundamental economic rights, will foster human development, enhance the sense of political efficacy, reduce alienation, strengthen attachments to the general good of the community, produce a body of active and concerned public-spirited citizens within the society, and stimulate greater participation and better citizenship in the government of the state itself. The upholders of economic democracy maintain that self-managed work environments might serve to nurture feelings of cooperation, equality, generosity and self-confidence.

The question I want to raise, therefore, is whether it would be possible for Pakistan citizens to construct a society that would nearly achieve the values of economic democracy and at the same time preserve as much individual liberty as we now enjoy, and perhaps even more. Or is there an inescapable trade-off between liberty and economic equality, so that we can only enjoy the liberties we now possess by fore-going greater economic equality? Would therefore the price of greater economic equality necessarily be less liberty?

The provision for economic justice is surely one of the most crucial, not only as a means of self-protection, but also as a necessary condition for many other important values, including one of the most fundamental of all human freedoms, the freedom to help determine, in cooperation with others, the laws and rules that one must obey.

The existence of sizeable inequalities in economic resources among the citizens of a democratic country should be disturbing to anyone who places a high value on political equality. In order to express economic preference accurately, each citizen must have adequate and equal liberties for discovering and validating his/her preferences.

Fundamental human rights have to be respected on an assumption that everyone has a right to economic liberty. The right to economic liberty justified a right to private ownership of economic enterprises. A right to privately owned economic enterprise justifies privately owned corporation and a right to private ownership of corporate enterprise can properly be prompted by the democratic process. If a legal system violates the requirements of economic justice, then to that extent we ought to condemn the legal order as an improper violation of a fundamental moral right. The economic justice, and its relation to the democratic process, is surely one of the most fundamental of all moral rights.

Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive system of political basic liberties compatible with a similar system of liberty for all. …

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